Finding meaning through gratitudeWhen we choose to be grateful, we accept our life the way it is.
Lately, I have been battling with thoughts about death. Perhaps it is because of the feelings of grief I am coming across—either through the clients I have seen or the literature I have read recently. This has given rise to a fear of death in me that wasn’t as prominent before. To be more particular, the uncertainty of it and how fickle and transient life is.
This thought of how life is so impermanent made me feel very anxious. I pondered over how one can lose their life without any foresight, leaving behind their ideas, desires, wants and needs, thoughts of the future, and things they want to accomplish and achieve. The existential dread and anguish arising from these thoughts made me search for the answers or avenues to cope with them.
Reaching out to my family, they shared a particular insight that gave me a huge sense of relief. Having been raised in the Buddhist faith, being born as a human is considered the greatest boon in a living being’s existence. It is considered the culmination of all the good deeds one does in life, ie dharma to be born as a human in their next rebirth.
As a result, I considered my existence in itself as a gift. In fact, it made me even more mindful of my life to use it to the fullest for myself and others. The Buddhist teachings emphasise the value a human should place on their life to practice dharma as they have the intellectual capacity to differentiate what is moral and good.
On embracing my life as a gift and boon, the anxiety and dread significantly dropped. I realised that the burden of death had subsided to make me embrace the present moment for the way it is.
That’s when I observed that on doing this, I actually had tapped into a therapeutic resource and intervention that I often employ: gratitude. I realised that even though I have used this with my clients many times, I had hardly used it myself.
Gratitude is an emotion of being thankful; in other words, counting our blessings. When we are choosing to be grateful, we are accepting our life for the way it is—saying yes to life. We are acknowledging that our life has elements in it that make it worth living, rather than looking at despair and sorrow.
Much research has been conducted on gratitude’s long-standing effects on mental health. Gratitude is linked with positive emotions of hope, happiness and contentment and leads to a decrease in feelings of loneliness and isolation. Similar to the link between mental and physical health, gratitude has also been found to better sleep routines and strengthen our immune system.
Gratitude journaling can be a great way to start on this technique. A lot of times, as I get occupied in my day-to-day life, I have found myself not being truly mindful of my circumstances. Thus, I have made it a point to write down a few things that I feel grateful about every day in the morning—no matter how small or big. It can be as simple as the food my mother prepared for me or a random act of kindness by a stranger when walking in the street. As I write about the minor, novel event, experience, or person in my days, I consequently embrace and enjoy the pleasant emotions arising from it.
Along with my own internal experience, I extended my gratitude to others. I remembered an assignment we had done during my training, which involved us writing gratitude letters to our families. I rewrote the letter and gave it to them, which gave me a warm feeling. I considered it a perfect opportunity for me to embrace the life that I had been given and make it a point to be thankful for it.
I have also made a personal goal to use the privilege and freedom to extend it to others, in any way I can, as I move further in life. This is where I realised the true meaning of life lies.
Gratitude, as it has been for me, is a very powerful tool to deal with the complex feelings of existential dread (that we all might battle from time to time), along with making me realise the true value of the life I have. Appreciating our existence, and extending kindness to the world around us, can truly make life more meaningful and purposeful.